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Opinions of Monday, 9 February 2009

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie

Grace Omaboe: Acting the victim?

Apart from being an excellent actor (I don’t like the sound of “actress”), Grace Omaboe (popularly known as Maame Dokono) has been one of the staunchest advocates of women and children’s rights in Ghana. She’s been at it for more than 10 years. Her radio and TV programmes have named and shamed paedophiles, rapists, wife beaters, runaway dads, child abusers and practically anyone whose criminal deeds negatively affect children.

Grace Omaboe has saved lives. She has changed lives. She has righted wrongs. She has brought joy to many hearts and she has spoken in very high decibels for dozens of the voiceless in this country. She is a hero. (Or heroine, choose what you may.)

One of her heroic deeds was to establish an orphanage to take care of some of the hapless, sickly, neglected and brutally traumatised kids who came to her. It was her way of telling the nation that it’s not good enough to just whine about the ills of society... if it’s within your means, do whatever you can to help. Miss Omaboe did ‘something’ to contribute to solving a very serious problem. But she seems to have gone about it the wrong way and now the long arm of the law seems to have caught up with her.

For years, she has been running her Peace and Love Orphanage without regulatory approval. The Department of Social Welfare which is supposed to be regulating the operations of orphanages has turned a blind eye to Miss Omaboe’s flagrant violation of the law – until news broke that an eight-year-old boy at the orphanage had been sodomising a six-month-old baby. It took this horrible piece of news to get the Department of Social Welfare to do what it has sadly failed to do for years – move into the orphanage, assess the conditions there and determine whether it provided the right conditions for children to live in. ‘Peace and Love’ failed the test and the DSW has rightly decided to close it down.

Unfortunately, our famous actor and national hero who illegally set up the orphanage is claiming that the decision to shut her orphanage down is politically-motivated. Maame Dokono wants us to believe that her open support for the New Patriotic Party in the run-up to the December polls (which didn’t amount to much, by the way) is the reason why the governing National Democratic Congress has decided to place her orphanage under so much scrutiny, leading to its closure. She’s been using her ‘acting’ skills to cast herself as the hapless woman who is being persecuted for simply exercising her right to support a party of her choice.

“Everyone can see that you are doing this because of politics,” she yelled at a group of police officers and social welfare officials who had gone to the orphanage to shut it down.

For a woman who has campaigned so diligently for the welfare of children for so many years, I find it very surprising that Maame Dokono deems an attempt to get her orphans out of harm’s way as an act of political vendetta. It’s so absurd because she is literally saying that someone in the NDC told the eight-year-old boy to sodomise the six-month-old baby so that the crime will be used as an excuse to shut down the orphanage. And how on earth will the closure of the orphanage – which is supposed to be a non-profit venture – benefit the NDC and the government for that matter?

Operating an orphanage without approval is wrong in itself. Failing to protect the children in an orphanage (whether legally established or not) from harm is completely unacceptable. Adults are supposed to protect the children under their care. If parents fail to protect their children from harm, there are laws that can be used to prosecute them. If the manager of an orphanage fails to make it impossible for the kids to sexually assault each he/she has some questions to answer – and the question get even more serious if it emerges that the orphanage is being run without the requisite regulatory approval. Maame Dokono has questions to answer – her celebrity status and her undeniable desire to help notwithstanding. She should therefore stop ‘acting’ like she is a victim. Those who have bought into her story of political vendetta should pause a moment and think. We are building a country of laws. When the law catches up with you the best thing to do is to submit to it and build the most appropriate legal defence you can to ensure that your penalty is reduced to the barest minimum.

In her bid to build a solid case, Maame Dokono seems to be deliberately taking advantage of the political divisions in the country to win public sympathy in order to, possibly, escape the full force of the law. This is wrong. It is even more abhorrent because she seems to have forgotten, rather disturbingly, that this is not about her. It’s not about her politics and her perceived political enemies. It’s about the children – the very hapless, sickly, neglected and traumatised kids she so passionately campaigns for. Peace and Love is certainly not the only orphanage operating outside of the law in this country and the news we’ve heard from there might just be the tip of the iceberg.

If the authorities decide to act, Ghanaians will hear even more horrendous tales from most the odd orphanages strewn across the country. Maame Dokono is therefore not the victim she (and her newfound friend, Frances Essiam – who until recently was her enemy) would have us believe. The Department of Social Welfare is only doing what it has failed to do for years and I hope their clampdown doesn’t end at Peace and Love. They should go out there and ensure that all of Ghana’s orphanages are the safe havens they are supposed to be for some of the most vulnerable children in our society. We cannot sacrifice the welfare of the children on the altar of political expediency and Grace Omaboe should know better. Politics or no politics, she has questions to answer.

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E-mail: ato@atokd.com